For the past two years, Hillcrest Baptist Church in New Albany, Mississippi, has done everything it could to make Night to Shine a great experience for its guests, even though the COVID-19 pandemic changed the event from prom-style to drive-through.
In 2021, Hillcrest made a new plan for the outdoor Shine-Thru, then had to adapt again because of rain. In 2022, it had tents ready just in case.
But this year, all that wasn’t necessary — the prom was back on for the first time since 2020.
“It was awesome,” said Michelle Armstrong, who coordinates Hillcrest’s Night to Shine and directs the church’s special needs ministry. “It was a really, really marvelous night of just being able to be back together.”
Night to Shine, an event sponsored by the Tim Tebow Foundation for people with special needs who are 14 years old or older, started in 2014 with a pilot event. Hillcrest jumped on board the following year as one of 44 participating churches.
It’s grown since then, and in its first year back in person since the pandemic, more than 600 host churches in 46 countries hosted Night to Shine 2023, up from nearly 450 the year before.
Each Night to Shine event starts with a red carpet walk for each guest and includes a dance floor with a DJ as well as other ways to enjoy the evening, such as a limo ride, hairstyling and makeup, karaoke and a photo booth. At the end of the evening, each guest is crowned king or queen.
Alexa Stamey, who coordinates the event for Mission City Church in Rutland, Vermont, said it’s a “huge undertaking,” but one the church was excited to work on again after taking a break the past two years.
“It was our first year back since COVID, and we had about the same number of guests we had in 2020,” she said. “We were excited we didn’t lose any momentum.”
Night to Shine is the church’s biggest outreach event of the year, Stamey noted, and the church hopes the event will show its “heartbeat for the community.”
Special-needs individuals make up “an underserved population, and we want to shine light on them and celebrate them and value them and give them their night,” she said.
The community and local schools got on board with helping too, Stamey said. The Rutland community center hosted the event, and the police force came out to give the guests rides in their squad cars. Stamey’s husband, a firefighter, also brought his truck for guests to see.
“We’ve had really positive responses,” she said.
Armstrong said they also have gotten positive feedback, something Hillcrest is grateful for.
“I think each one of our guests and others involved really enjoyed it, but the main focus was to point each one of them to Christ, and so I just pray that we honored that and that God is pleased with our efforts,” she said.
Armstrong also encouraged others to get involved as Night to Shine volunteers in their own local area.
“If you have a heart to come together with other Christians to bring joy to these families, then look in your local area and just jump on board and volunteer,” she said. “Don’t wait — just do it.”
For more information about Night to Shine, visit timtebowfoundation.org/night-to-shine-2023.